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Arts & Entertainment

A second Stern Grove festival? Brand-new SF summer music series drops

a crowd of people cheers and holds up their phones at the very front of an outdoor festival stage
While lineup announcements for 2024 summer music festivals continue to drop, San Francisco announced an all-new outdoor concert series called SF Live. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Who needs Coachella’s bloated prices, gnarly winds and equipment meltdowns? 

Starting with an electronic-heavy lineup on May 4 at the Golden Gate Park Bandshell, San Francisco has announced a brand-new summer festival of its own: a series of free outdoor musical performances called “SF Live” that will take place all summer at parks and plazas citywide.

Staged by the perennially popular clubs Monarch and the Great Northern, the debut is a full-on rave called “Electric Fields” bringing local veteran Galen of pioneering party Sunset Sound System to the park’s Music Concourse, along with fellow EDM heavy-hitters Doc Martin and DJ M3. 

Less than two weeks later, Fulton Plaza will be home to “Formerly Santana,” a night of performances from ex-members of the hometown rocker’s band, in cooperation with nearby Civic Center bar Mr. Tipple’s.

SF Live runs through October, with weekday evenings and weekend afternoons devoted to indie rock, jazz ensembles and what’s being described as “high-energy pop acts.” Many of the details for additional concerts remain TBD, but a constellation of local bars and clubs, including Bottom of the Hill, Rickshaw Stop, El Rio, Kilowatt, the Chapel and Madrone Art Bar are all involved, ensuring a broad cross-section of acts. 

a goateed whit man in a brimmed hat wears a serious expression as he DJs
DJ M3, seen here during the 2021 Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival in Las Vegas, will help lead off the first SF Live concert on May 4. | Source: FilmMagic/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Overall, SF Live’s vibe appears similar to that of the Stern Grove Music Festival, which has provided free outdoor entertainment for almost 90 years—except SF Live isn’t fixed in place. It’s all made possible through a $2.5 million state grant, conceived by Mayor Breed and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and secured by City Attorney David Chiu during his time in the state Assembly.

Calling it a gem and a “bright spot for Bottom of the Hill,” owner Lynn Schwarz said the initiative allowed her to book an act she’d long been pursuing but which was too big for her Potrero Hill venue. SF Live, she added, will “help turn SF into a real music city again.” 

The news comes as San Francisco has increasingly leaned on live entertainment to hoist itself out of the doom-loop doldrums. Tickets to Another Planet Entertainment’s alt-metal-heavy single-day festival reportedly sold out within 90 minutes of going on sale, proving that the appetite remains strong for huge gatherings in Golden Gate Park during the foggy month of August. 

SF Live also roped in some considerable booking talent, as Noise Pop, the local promoter known for its annual festival every February as well as smaller events like the 20th Street Block Party, is helping to program the series. “We can’t wait for everyone to experience what we’ve put together,” said Noise Pop Industries CEO Michelle Swing.

The Union Square Alliance and Parks Alliance each received some funds to brighten up their respective parks and plazas. Perhaps most significantly, Illuminate—the arts organization responsible for large-scale projects like the Bay Lights and the laser rainbow that shone over Market Street during last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Conference summit—is set to make the Golden Gate Park bandshell a hub of activity. 

Primarily known for its visuals, Illuminate is the organization responsible for decking the bandshell out with the words “Lift Every Voice,” the opening phrase to what’s known as the Black National Anthem. Since August 2021, it has worked to stage some 400 live concerts there.

“We’re doing a lot of live music now,” said Illuminate founder Ben Davis. “Our vision is to restore live music’s swagger to San Francisco.”